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Book Review - All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation

Rebecca Traister (March 2016, 339 pp.)

Though this book is not a step-by-step guide for success in business, it offers us the opportunity to better appreciate the barriers that women have overcome, face now and can address in the future—including those in the insurance world. Rebecca Traister’s work celebrates the social, political and economic choices available to women in the United States today, finding that they vary widely depending on education, financial status and social background. She examines some of the many factors and government policies that encourage or limit those choices, of which marriage is only one. 

The first three chapters lead into today’s issues with a review of the political, economic and social history of women in the United States since its settlement by Europeans, including major demographic changes and women’s roles in temperance, abolition, suffrage and secondary education. The balance of the book touches on various issues related to economics, balancing work and socializing, and marriage and parenting. Statistics and historical summaries mix with current politics, extensive interviews and personal anecdotes.

Ms. Traister started this book in 2009, when she and many others realized that today, only 20% of Americans are married by age 29, compared to nearly 60% in 1960. “Single” (unmarried, divorced or widowed) is becoming a more accepted norm—if not the norm—for women as well as men. It took years for Ms. Traister to explore the ramifications of her topic, which go far beyond cultural changes in the time and circumstance of marriage.

In the business world, the number of working women continues to rise, but women hold no more than 20% of leadership positions.1 Recent studies indicate that women constitute almost half of graduating lawyers and one-third of graduating MBAs and have for some time, but only some 17% of equity partners in major law firms, 22% of Fortune 500 general counsel and 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female.2 

In the insurance industry, studies over the last 5 years show that women fill over 75% of clerical positions, but hold only 6 percent of top executive positions, 12.5% of board seats, and 8% of inside business, legal or actuarial officer roles, such as chief actuary or division president.3  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, in 2015 women held 59.4% of the 2.7 million jobs in the insurance industry in the United States, but mostly at the lower and middle levels of the job pyramid. Only 1% of actuaries were women. Women have become 58.6% of underwriters, 51.2% of sales agents, 55.3% of claims adjusters, appraisers, examiners and investigators and 77.1% of claims and policy processing clerks.4 The disparity in pay between men and women “is greater in the finance and insurance services sector than all other industries.” 5 Women get only 62.2% of what men receive, compared to 82.2% in all other industries.6 Much of this disparity is attributed to women negotiating lower starting salaries and benefits. Unconscious gender discrimination in promotions and other rewards also contributes.7

Many women (and men) are working to improve the opportunities available for women and for those of diverse and low-income backgrounds in particular. Compare Chapter Six, “For Richer:  Work, Money and Independence,” with Chapter Seven, “For Poorer: Single Women and Sexism, Racism and Poverty.” The insurance industry has not lagged in offering remote access or telecommuting benefits, flexible hours and schedules, and implementing other policies that enable a better work/life balance—not just for those with family responsibilities, but for everyone. The U.S. Bureau of Labor reports that home-based work by employees of private companies increased 67% from 1997 to 2010; that trend is growing.8

As Ms. Traister makes clear, women with remunerative, non-physical jobs, have the most options available to them. Her work is a thoughtful, well-researched reminder to appreciate where we have been, how far we have come, and where we still need to go.



1 See See University of Denver, Colorado Women’s College, Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States (2013), available at http://womenscollege.du.edu/benchmarking-womens-leadership/; see also CIT Bank, N.A., Women in Industry: Five Fast Facts that May Surprise You! (Oct. 13, 2016), available at https://www.cit.com/blog/women-in-business-facts/?cmp=paidsearch&gclid=CJStoJfF8dACFQ13fgodjRsA1w&jcpid=8a8ae4cd58215cb401582e930282464f&jsf=e2caf1cd-81ee-4f7e-9552-105fdadb194b:35584.

2 E.g., Pew Research Center, Women and Leadership: Public Says Women are Equally Qualified, but Barriers Persist (Jan. 14, 2015), available at http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/01/14/women-and-leadership/.

3 See Laura Mazzuca Toops, Women in Insurance, PROPERTY CASUALTY 360° (Aug. 1, 2013), available at http://www.propertycasualty360.com/2013/08/01/women-in-insurance?slreturn=148122051.

4 See U.S. Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (Feb. 10, 2016), available at http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat11.htm.

5 See Joanne Wojick, Women Have Made Gains in the Insurance Industry, but Challenges Remain, BUSINESS INSURANCE (Dec. 1, 2013), available at http://www.businessinsurance.com/article/20131201/NEWS04/312019991.

6 Id.

7 See Pew Research Center, Gender and Leadership Dataset (Mar. 25, 2016), available at http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2016/03/25/gender-and-leadership/.

8 See Insurance Information Institute, Careers and Employment: Insurance Industry Employment (2015), available at http://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/careers-and-employment.

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